Train for any argument with Harvard’s former debate coach

Train for any argument with Harvard’s former debate coach
Train for any argument with Harvard’s former debate coach

Have you heard of the train for any argument? I had the opportunity to analyze an intriguing video by Bo Seo, a former Harvard debate coach, two-time world debate champion, and the author of “Good Arguments.” Through this, I want to share my thoughts on how Seo’s perspective can reshape our public conversations from a current state of crisis into opportunities for understanding and growth.

The Crisis in Public Conversations

Seo begins by diagnosing the issue at the heart of our public discourse: the lack of productive disagreement. Our public conversations are in a state of crisis- they’re stuck. People have become more concerned with defending their viewpoints than understanding others’, leading to a degradation in the quality of our public conversations. This diagnosis resonates with many of us, as we’ve experienced the frustration of engaging in discussions that feel more like shouting matches than dialogue.

The Potential of Disagreement

Despite this grim reality, Seo doesn’t abandon hope for productive disagreements. He believes that disagreements can be a source for good if approached with the right mindset and skills. His view challenges the widely held belief that disagreements inherently sow discord.

The Life of a World Debate Champion

Through his personal story, Seo illuminates the transformative power of debate. Born in South Korea, Seo moved to Australia at eight, where he faced the challenges of navigating different cultures and languages. Debate became his sanctuary, a space where he could express his thoughts without interruption. This underlines the role of debate in empowering individuals and bridging cultural gaps.

The ‘RISA Framework’ and its Applications

One of Seo’s most significant contributions is the ‘RISA Framework,’ a strategy for choosing your battles wisely:

  1. Real – Is the disagreement real or just a misunderstanding?
  2. Important – Is it important enough to justify the disagreement?
  3. Specific – Is the disagreement specific enough to make progress?
  4. Aligned – Are both parties’ objectives aligned?

This framework encourages us to be more strategic in our disagreements and promotes the concept of debate as a productive exercise rather than a hostile confrontation.

Active Listening and Empathy in Debate

Seo underscores the importance of active listening and empathy in debate. He asserts that listening is more than a passive act; it requires actively trying to understand the opposition’s argument as they would. Responding to the strongest version of their argument challenges the opposition to strengthen their case, enriching the conversation. This approach encourages empathy and humility, making us imagine a world in which we’re wrong.

The Role of Empathy in Personal and Political Disputes

Seo’s final insight concerns the need for empathy in our personal disagreements and political disputes. He advocates for the ‘side-switch exercises’ that enable us to put ourselves in the opponent’s shoes and imagine reasons for losing the debate. This fosters empathy and humility, pushing us beyond our political affiliations, religious commitments, and ideological beliefs. In today’s polarized world, such exercises can help bridge divides and promote understanding.


Bo Seo’s insights into the art of debate provide valuable lessons for navigating disagreements in both our personal lives and public discourses. By embracing strategies like the RISA framework and side-switch exercises, we can transform our arguments from zero-sum battles into opportunities for understanding and growth.

For those interested in diving deeper into these concepts, I highly recommend watching the full video on YouTube here. With the right mindset, we can evolve from shouting at each other from a distance to engaging in productive, empathetic dialogue.

Remember, we are bigger than our political affiliations, religious commitments, and ideological beliefs. As we face the challenges of an increasingly complex world, the skills of debate and the ability to have productive disagreements can guide us towards mutual understanding and collaboration. We have a lot to learn from the world of debate, and I look forward to seeing how we can apply these lessons in our everyday lives.


YouTube Video : Train for any argument with Harvard’s former debate coach | Bo Seo

Train for any argument with Harvard’s former debate coach | Bo Seo

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